Training & development: finding a balance when budgets are tight in summary:

  • Training and development programmes are often the first to be cut when businesses are looking to reduce costs.
  • Luckily, training and development doesn’t have to be hugely expensive; it just needs HR teams to be savvy with how they operate.
  • To get the most out of limited learning budgets, HR teams should carefully assess needs within the business, identify experts, emphasise soft skills and signpost useful resources.

With the county navigating a difficult financial period, it’s expected that businesses will be looking to cut costs.

But, while learning and development is often one of the first areas to suffer from budget cuts, ditching training efforts entirely could be a costly mistake…

training development brain laptop staff

Why should training and development remain a priority for HR?

With a longer payoff period than other business investments, it’s easy to see how the training fund draws the short straw if a recession rolls around. When it comes to keeping a business afloat through tough times, the most immediate issues will undoubtedly take financial priority. And unfortunately, funding development opportunities often won’t make the cut.

The reality, however, is that long-term success depends upon upskilling staff. In fact, Foswell Group recently found skills enablement to be the most important route of futureproofing for the next few years. So, it’s important to keep the development ball rolling if your organisation wants to thrive post-recession.

What’s more, knowledgeable employees are likely to produce a higher standard of work. And, as you’ll no doubt know, when it comes to standing out against competitors (a priority for any business in tough times), quality of service can make all the difference. With staff equipped to perform at their best, your organisation stands its highest chance of success.

Although there’s no denying that a recession will mean tightening the purse strings, it’s possible for HR to maintain a low-cost training strategy – even if external courses and off-site training are out of the question. Here’s how you can find the balance…

1. Carefully assess your business needs

Always in HR, but particularly on a limited budget, it’s essential to make sure time and resources aren’t being wasted on unnecessary ventures. When considering training and development opportunities, this might include those which are unengaging, have low impact, or are simply outright irrelevant.

With input from management and senior leaders, you could carry out a training gaps analysis to help assess where efforts and funds would be best directed. For example: are staff undertrained on particular software? Is customer communication falling short? Identifying the central issues impacting staff productivity within your organisation will allow HR to hone in on the areas that need training the most.

Making use of data analytics tools in your HR system will help in taking a data-driven approach here. Pre-configured reports can highlight key metrics, and flag up any areas that may benefit from extra attention when it comes to learning and development.

Also, looking back on past performance reviews and survey feedback can offer insight into employees’ existing goals and opinions. If teams are already working to pre-decided upon targets, or have repeatedly vocalised certain areas for improvement, it might make sense to prioritise these when exploring the next steps for staff development.

2. Identify experts

When budgets are tight, making use of existing resources – and people – in your organisation can be a valuable means of developing talent.

Mentoring – or ‘buddy’ – programmes allow the experts in your organisation to play a leading role in helping others. If approached correctly, they can make for an informal, incredibly effective route to knowledge sharing – and cost-effective, too!

If not on a 1-2-1 basis, skill experts with more formal or theoretical knowledge may be open to running team skill workshops for other members of staff, or even recommending resources for others to get ahead.

Not only is peer mentoring beneficial for skill-specific training, but fostering a culture of learning and development can also reap long-term rewards for your organisation. Job hunters – and particularly the new cohort of – are increasingly focused on growth opportunities; so, an employer who offers mentoring schemes or in-house workshops will no doubt be viewed upon fondly by those looking to develop in their careers.

3. Emphasise soft skills

Although easily overlooked when it comes to training, soft skills are an essential part of any business – and can often be effectively taught on the job.

For example, are relationship building or communication skills impacting success with customers? Has a lack of time management or decision-making ability caused disruption to key timelines? Through conversations with managers, and a look at past performance reviews, it’s possible that areas of focus will come to light.

HR can encourage soft skills development by emphasising a culture of reflection. Managers should be encouraged to provide regular, informal feedback outside of regular reviews – even if that means difficult conversations – so that employees can more consciously tackle day-to-day communication or time management issues.

To take it a step further, HR-run workshops directed at management – around handling sensitive issues, interpersonal skills, or conflict resolution – can make for better leadership across an organisation. If management are equipped to lead by example, it’s all the more likely teams will follow.

4. Signpost resources for training and development

Lastly, one of the biggest benefits of the digital age is the sheer amount of information available for free – including training videos, courses, and ‘how-to’ guides on an almost infinite number of topics. Not only can HR make the most of these digital tools to optimise development strategies, but they can be incredibly helpful for skill-specific training, too.

Compiling a collection of relevant online resources – and storing them in an accessible spot such as your organisation’s HR portal – will mean employees can self-direct and make use of tools as needed. Staff can utilise those which are most relevant to their own development needs, without the pressure to sit through an hours-long course or workshop that simply isn’t relevant.

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Author bio

Kim Holdroyd has an MSc in HRM and is passionate about all things HR and people operations, specialising in the employee life cycle, company culture, and employee empowerment. Her career background has been spent with various industries, including technology start-ups, gaming software, and recruitment.

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